Monday, August 28, 2017

We're Going on a Boat!

For a while now, Carter has wanted to go on a boat.  We finally got to go on a train when we took the subway in Toronto last winter, though he really wants to do it again--probably on a more traditional train, but we'll see what we can do.  But when he started asking to go on a boat--probably ramping up after our time at the beach when we saw a bunch out on the water--I was at a bit of a loss.  We didn't go anywhere with a duck boat tour this summer, and my main boat riding when I was a kid was in my late uncle's boat, so I was a little short on ideas.  But then I remembered that we have the Sam Patch here.  It's a packet boat that goes in the Erie Canal on the other side of town.  I've wanted to do it for years, since I went on its former sister vessel, the Mary Jemison, four years ago as part of a work outing.  That one went from downtown Rochester, up the Genesee River and into the Erie Canal, ironically right near the University of Rochester campus.  The Mary Jemison was bigger, with plenty of roof top seating.  That boat has since been retired.  I discovered the Sam Patch is a bit smaller, with only some indoor seating and some standing room at the front and back.  But going in a different part of the canal was intriguing, and the highlight of the trip involves going through one of the canal's many locks.  So, with Craig and Jacob on the road this weekend, going on the Sam Patch became one of our main activity goals.

We originally wanted to go Saturday, but I purposely waited until the last minute to get tickets because I wasn't sure how our Saturday would go.  And sure enough, after a fun morning at the library, tickets for the later sailing were already sold out.  So it became Sunday's activity instead.  Saturday afternoon turned into Hot Wheels stunt track setup, a couple errands, and a yummy dinner out followed by a little time outside before bed.  Sunday we went to church, had some lunch, did some Duplo building, and then left for our boat trip.  Carter had spent the weekend telling people about going on a boat, and it was finally time!  Someone was very excited (and so was this kid...haha!)...

We got on the boat and settled into our seat...

We got a nice lesson about the history of the canal and some little tidbits about past boat guests and their odd connections to the canal.  Eventually the boat set off, and as we listened to more commentary, we looked out the window at the scenery and other passing boats, and kept our eyes peeled for blue herons along the shore.  About 15 minutes in, we entered Lock 32.  We moved to the back of the boat to catch a glimpse of the lock doors closing. 
The doors are closing as we float in.  Notice the height of the walls...
In case you're unaware of how locks work, they are in place to allow boats to, in essence, change elevation with the canal.  Picture that in some spot nearby there's a waterfall, and how does a boat manage that?  Well, that's what a lock is for.  The boat moves in between two sets of doors and the water level adjusts inside until it is even with the other part of the waterway.  In this case, the other side of the canal was 25.1 feet higher than where we came from. 
We moved to the front of the boat as the water rose.  Note that these doors weren't quite as water tight as the other set!
About 10 minutes later, the water had risen and the doors were open!
It was very pretty as we sailed out into the next section.  There were some houses just beyond this on the shore straight ahead that had to have a gorgeous view.  Can't imagine what those cost!  Oh, wait, just looked on Zillow.  Half a million.  Anyway...

As the boat was getting ready to turn around, we saw this guy...

And then we got to see him fly away!  Huge wing span!

Back into the lock we went, and we got to see it all happen in reverse!  The big doors you saw first are straight ahead...
Oh, and that little white building on the right has a guy that moves between ends of the lock to manage the process.  He had a faithful dog named Camouflage.  And yes, her fur looked like it!
As the back doors closed us in, the waterfall from the leak in the doors grew bigger.  They call it the Angel Falls...
Notice the water mark on the wall...crazy to think we were up there just a few minutes earlier!
And finally, the level was back down and the doors reopened. 
Note the greenish stains on the wall.  That's the approximate spot where the lock master keeps the water level in between uses, so it only takes half the time to fill or empty it, depending on whichever is needed.
We headed back toward the dock, but we were only passing by this time to go in the other direction. 
The big tower is a former grain tower that now has offices (and possibly a condo) in it.

This boat was docked right near our original launching point, and at first I thought it was a little tugboat or something...but in the end I think it was someone's boat.  The wood was gorgeous, and you could just see a bed through the portholes in the back.  It was so cute!

This boat added an item to my bucket list.  You can rent it for a few days or a week and sail it up the canal pretty much the entire length of the upstate portion from North Tonawanda (yep!) to past Syracuse.  You don't have to have a boating license or anything!  It's not cheap, but there's a kitchen, sleeping and living areas, and even bikes!  It looks awesome.  A week of the canal life sounds pretty cool.
There were small personal docks all along the canal and it just seemed so peaceful to go out and watch the world go by from your dock.  I've seen it in North Tonawanda, near my parents, at the far western point of the canal...and it's even better during Canal Fest.  But this just seemed so perfect and serene.

They started playing the old Erie Canal song during this part of the trip, which added some atmosphere, and it was such a pleasant day with perfect weather.  Carter just hung out at the front of the boat where he could see over the edge, and I happily presided above him.

Eventually our trip was coming to an end, but the scenery as we approached the park was lovely.

Renovated flour mill
Back on dry land, we'd had a great time!

Front of the boat where we hung out most of the trip

Back of the boat where the captain was, and where we watched the first set of lock doors open
We considered getting gelato, but my cold averse little boy decided he wasn't interested so we headed out.  I snapped a random photo of the grain tower on the way back to the car...

...and then we headed to the Trader Joe's nearby to see if there was anything worth buying.  We came back with a few fun snacks and Craig and Jacob were already home when we got there.  Aside from a couple momentary lapses, Carter was a really great little boy for the weekend.  We had a lot of fun and some good quality time.  While it was hard to say goodbye to one of the last weekends of the summer, it helped to know we only had one day to get through before a couple more days off.  Seabreeze is on tap for tomorrow!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Looking Back...

The other day I was looking through pictures on my iPod for some reason, and I went into the pictures from the Summer and Fall of 2013, pretty much four years ago at this time of year.  As I swiped through them, my emotions were all over the place.  It was one of the hardest periods of my entire life, if not the hardest, and yet there were these moments of joy and beauty in the midst of it that almost made me wish I could jump back in time. 

On one hand there was my absurdly adorable six-month-old Carter.  Every picture of him was cuter than the last.

I mean, the current version of Carter is so awesome and super cute and such a little character, and I wouldn't trade him for the world.  But how could you not miss that face?  He was such a happy baby and that was before he could talk back!  I'm very conscious of the fact that my baby boy is on the verge of true big-boyhood, and it kills me a little more every day because he's the last one and time is flying by.  I know my days of hand-holding, plentiful hugs and kisses, and complete adoration of me (most of the time) are limited.  My heart ached seeing these pictures because I missed my baby, but his smiles made me smile, too.  Of course, what you don't see in these pictures is that we had just started solids, and a week in he started projectile vomiting, which led us to believe he had a rice intolerance.  I'm still not sure what it was, since it didn't seem to take as long as expected for him to outgrow it, but whatever it was, it was pretty stressful at the time.

The last five pictures above were taken on a trip to Pittsburgh with Craig's family.  Throughout that trip his dad was not feeling well, and by the end of it, it was clear something was very wrong.  Instead of going home at the end of that trip, he checked into the hospital and by the time he left, he had endured bypass surgery.  Having him go through those life-threatening heart problems was really scary, and in the midst of everything else that was going on, it was overwhelming.

Because, oh yeah, this was also the time when Jacob's behavior was really ramping up and we were dealing with horrible tantrums and massive stand-offs.  We were holding him down to stop him from kicking or punching us, having him call us names in the middle of Walmart when something didn't go right, dealing with major aversions to certain clothing, and just generally struggling through everything.  He was starting Kindergarten on top of it, and we were at a complete loss to figure out how to manage it all.  I felt helpless, and most days it took everything I had to hold it together. 
Man, it seems like ages ago now.  Hard to believe we're almost to round five of the first day picture (six if you count the baby announcement one the year before)!
Then, less than a week after school started, we were off to Florida for eight days.  It was a pre-planned trip that was supposed to be with Craig's whole family 10 months earlier, got postponed due to his mom's medical emergency, then got postponed further because of my pregnancy, and finally got rescheduled in September, only to get another wrench thrown into it by Craig's dad's heart surgery.  So instead of going with his parents, we went alone.  In the end it was probably better that way, as we were still figuring a lot of things out and Jacob's behavior probably would have been very disappointing to them.  But there we were in paradise, at the Happiest Place on Earth...

And honestly, there is something special about Disney.  There is always magic in the air, and despite our internal (and external) turmoil, there was something about that place.  The contrast was probably a little jarring, being in this amazing place and being so sad and tortured inside, so my feelings about that trip are rather mixed up.  On one hand we got to see all of these amazing places, ride some great rides, and get away from the daily grind for a bit.  Carter was easier than expected to manage, and while exhaustion wasn't always easy to avoid, I think we did pretty well with the long days, all things considered.  I had a nasty cold, too, but thankfully medication helped and it eased up about halfway through.  But on the other hand, Jacob was a major handful and the pleasant moments like this one were fewer and farther between than we would have liked.
With the toy soldiers at Hollywood Studios on our first day in the park
And this picture, well, it was probably taken right around the moment our lives changed forever.  Right around this point durngthe first full day in Florida, we got a call from Jacob's pediatrician.  We had sent him for blood work a few days earlier to see if maybe his meltdowns were being caused by some sort of vitamin deficiency or hormonal imbalance, and the results were in.  I remember sitting there as Craig talked to her, not entirely comprehending what I was hearing but not liking the sound of it.  And when Craig hung up the phone, he confirmed that the doctor thought Jacob might have Celiac disease.  We sat there for a few minutes in disbelief, trying to process that news and wondering where we went from there.
Near Toy Story Mania, probably our favorite ride of the whole trip (and longest wait)!
We weren't supposed to start the diet right away, but after an evening of Googling and seeing that behavior could improve immediately upon starting a gluten-free diet, we decided to try it in case it could save the second half of our trip.  So we spent the vacation (stupidly but desperately) trying to track down the gluten-free options around the property, just in case it worked.  It didn't, and in retrospect we should have enjoyed the gluten-fest while we could and made our lives a heck of a lot easier by not limiting where we could eat (even though Disney is awesome for dietary restrictions, it was still a little challenging).  But it just shows how desperate we were.

As I said, Jacob's behavior did not improve, but we did our best to work with his quirks and ensure he felt like he was getting what he wanted out of the vacation--including trying out every rentable piece of sports equipment at the resort.

In the meantime, Carter was an absolute delight.  He sat contentedly in the stroller, napped periodically, and went in the carrier strapped to me if he got fussy or we went on a gentle ride.
Seriously, look at that little nugget.

We had good moments, like riding Pirates of the Caribbean and Jacob picking his big souvenir, a pirate chest full of pirate supplies--compass, map, coins, a hat, a hook (and it's still hanging out in our house, now in Carter's room).
Never mind that this picture was taken at 11 or 12 at night and Jacob was still awake!
Jacob also got to embrace his inner pirate later in the trip when he took part in the pirate battle at the resort pool's waterslide.

One of our "rest days", where we got to spend time at the resort.  The sandbox in the pail was cute!

Riding a dino-themed, Dumbo-style ride at Animal Kingdom.  It was one of the few moments I felt like he and I got along on the trip.
And in between battles and trying to keep Jacob content, I had moments like this where I could take a couple seconds to stop and snap a picture of a lovely moment of my own, as I probably figured without the picture it would have been forever lost in the abyss of the challenges of the trip.
Art deco!  Giant palm trees!  Rapidly approaching rain!

Halloween at Disney!

Big Thunder Mountain at dusk...I was the only one who rode it, and it was probably my favorite!

The castle after fireworks

So pretty...more fall d├ęcor.

Similar picture of the resort as the daytime one above....and even though we always saw this view at the end of a long day as we arrived back at our condo, I found it so peaceful.

Had to capture the Florida foliage!

Spaceship Earth by night
Little moments of beauty in the midst of a lot of unhappiness.  And maybe that's the theme of the whole trip.  Sometimes it felt surreal to be there, and sometimes it was misery to be helplessly off our schedule and without routine.  I hated to leave, but also couldn't wait to get home.  It was a tale of two trips - the dream and the reality.  It was wonderful to be there and under ideal circumstances it could have been an amazing trip.  I felt grateful for the opportunity and tried to make the most of it.  But the reality is that we had so many challenges and a major dose of bad news in the process, and sometimes it's harder to deal with that stuff in an unfamiliar setting.  Looking back, a lot of the bad memories have faded, but the mere sight of these pictures leaves me with a heaviness because I know how  I felt when I took them.  

We had other challenges that fall, from Craig's Nana falling ill, to working through our first attempt at behavior therapy, to a very difficult adjustment to Kindergarten.  Tears were nearly a daily occurrence.  My life didn't even feel like my own.  It was out of my control and almost surreal that our situation was that bad.  I felt completely overwhelmed and in a fog for months.  And it caught me completely off-guard when simply looking at these pictures evoked emotions I didn't expect--mixed emotions that so accurately represented what a strange time that was.  Extreme joy and extreme anguish, all in one moment.  I can't say our lives now are much easier--same stress, different problems--but I guess I feel a little less ambushed than I did after that sudden onslaught.  After four years, I don't feel any more equipped to manage it all well, but the emotions don't feel as raw most of the time.  Perhaps I've grown some armor after so many battles.  Sometimes I feel like we've still come a long way, but sometimes it's clear there isn't enough armor in the world to fix what ails us. For better or for worse, it was definitely an interesting part of our journey...and I guess the journey is what it's all about.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Seafood, Sparklers, Cake, and Cousins

Before I get to the guts of the post...In the midst of the busyness of last weekend and wanting to get the sleep study post written, I forgot to tell you the story of Jacob's first lobster!  After I talked about the lobster I ate a work-related function a few weeks back, Jacob had been wanting to try lobster.  I was obviously hesitant to spend a ton of money on something he might hate, but I kept it in the back of my mind.  Then I started seeing a lot of advertising for the Steak and Lobster at Outback Steakhouse, and I decided it might be time to see how Jacob would do with Outback's gluten-free menu.  I also decided to cash in a Visa gift card I've been toting around for a couple years to get an Outback card so we could make it an affordable dinner.  So off to Outback we went last Friday.  I got the steak and lobster, and Jacob got the kids' menu steak.  I gave him a piece of the tail to start, and he liked it!  So I gave him more, and he asked for more!  Eventually I had given him about half of the tail, and insisted I keep the other half for myself--because I like lobster, too, after all!  After we were done, Jacob decided to have some fun with the shell...
Kissing it because he loved it so much!

Playing with the legs...ewww!
It's always nice to have something else Jacob can eat, but not ideal to have it be the most expensive thing on the menu!  For a couple days he was pretty fixated on going somewhere and getting more lobster.  Craig mentioned a restaurant he sometimes gets treated to by his team owner, and of course Jacob's convinced he needs to get in on that...but can you imagine the nine-year-old kid ordering lobster?!  Yikes.

Fast-forward through another busy week of baseball, work craziness, and whatever else, and we come to this past Friday.  I had a freebie day off from work (we get two non-vacation day Fridays off each summer), and spent the entire day cleaning our house from top to bottom in preparation for Jacob's birthday party (finally) on Saturday.  I didn't get much done during the week--and honestly, what's the point when the kids will just mess it up again before the party--so I cleaned from about 9am until 3:30 or so.  I dusted, vacuumed, scrubbed the kitchen floor, and tried to neaten up whatever I could.  It was exhausting!  Then I baked the cake, showered, and ran out to grocery shop for the last-minute party foods.  In the midst of that, Craig called to tell me that we had been invited to our friends' house for s'mores that night.  Even though I had plenty of things to do that night, I knew that it all needed to take a back seat to this.

We don't have a lot of friends. We have lots of acquaintances, but but when it comes to actual friends that we spend time with, not really.  I think it was initially because Craig and I both worked in sports and had to be at work when most people hang out.  His schedule is still a little like that for a good chunk of the year.  But beyond that it's having a kid that we weren't always comfortable doing playdates for, and being in Buffalo a lot, and naturally being introverts.  I think it's just a bad combo.  I've always sort of felt like friends always had better friends than me, and this just seems to be an extension of that.  But there's a family that we seem to have settled into a nice friendship with.  The wife was Jacob's lunch monitor at his old school, and they go to our church, so one day she said hi to him and then we talked periodically.  It turns out that their son is a year older than Jacob and also plays lacrosse.  He did the FCA winter training last year, and also went to training camp, though he was only a practice player last year and opted to try out for a different organization this year.  Anyway, long story short, the boys get along well, their 8-year-old daughter has fun with Carter, and we get along really well with both parents.  We went to a Rattlers (outdoor lacrosse) game with them a month or so ago, and then we got the s'mores invite on Friday.

We ended up having a really good time and staying much longer than anticipated.  In spite of the mosquitos eating us alive, we had some yummy s'mores and Carter even got to do sparklers, which he loved!

The boys watched part of a movie then changed over to Minecraft, and the adults got to sit and chat.  Eventually we got on the road and I spent what little energy I had left just trying to get a crumb coat on the cake so it was ready to refrost and decorate in the morning.

The next morning I immediately started cutting up fruit while the cake sat in the freezer solidifying enough to frost without getting any remaining crumbs mixed up with the white frosting...because of course Jacob wanted chocolate cake with a white background!  He had requested a cake with the logo of his travel lacrosse team.  At least it fit the format of a regular-sized cake, but beyond that I had to freehand the whole thing.  It was hard to find the logo online and the best I could do was find one that was close and get the shape of the lacrosse head and cross.  But I had to freehand the banner completely.  It wasn't easy, but in the end it came together nicely!

It was a busy morning and early afternoon getting ready for the party, but in the end we had a great day.  My brother and his kids came in since they could get a two-for-one on the weekend with our uncle's 70th birthday party the following day.  For the first time ever, my kids had all six of their cousins together in one place!  We had a gorgeous day aside from one 10-minute downpour after we ate, and it ended up being okay timing anyway since we had to open gifts and do cake anyway, so it forced everyone inside into one place. 

Jacob got a GameStop gift card, a Visa gift card, a Montreal Expos hat, and Minecraft for Xbox One.

Oh, and he was also pretty excited about his own box of Platters orange chocolate that my mom brought him!

And then it was time for cake!

In my family, we have lots of pictures of cousins gathered around the birthday kid, and while I'm sure it was annoying at the time, looking back it's so nice that we have that visual from year to year as we grew up.  And with all six cousins around, I had to get a shot!

My handsome kid as he was being sung to...notice the chocolate candle on the front of the cake that he'd been asking for since last year.  Of course, there wasn't a good spot on the cake and the base broke off (because it was chocolate and a bit warm in the house) as I tried to wedge it in the rim of the base.  Worked out just fine, though!
After cake and ice cream, guests started to filter out.  As always it was so nice to see everyone and have them on our turf for a change.  Eventually it was down to just my parents and each of our brothers' families.  Craig's brother and his boys, along with Craig and Jacob, were playing an epic game of driveway lacrosse, while the rest of us spectated from the porch.  It was pretty intense!

Before John, Kate, and Max left, my mom had requested a photo of all four cousins.  We tried, but it's not easy to get four kids to all look and smile!

After a fun day of playing in the pool, playing Legos, and mostly having a good time, this is what a good-bye hug from Carter looks like...

We spent the night finishing the clean-up and relaxing since we knew we had to drive to Buffalo the next day for my Uncle Ron's 70th birthday party.  It was a surprise party so we had to be on time, and as a result I decided we should probably skip church (which I hate to do) because we'd be cutting it close if we went.  And given our busy day on Saturday, a little extra sleep-in time wasn't a bad thing.  It was nice to get more time with my family where I wasn't in the kitchen preparing food, and it was nice to get the kids a little more time together.  My uncle was genuinely surprised, and aside from an onslaught of bees as we tried to eat and drink, we had a nice time. 
Bonding over electronics...could be worse!

We grabbed one more picture of the four kids together before we took off, and then we headed home.

It was a low key evening since we were all sort of tired and full of food (or leftover cake, whichever the case might be).  But overall it was a fun and very busy weekend!  I'm relieved we finally got Jacob's birthday party in, but hopefully we can try to do it a little early next year since our lacrosse schedule is probably going to be pretty similar and we'll just keep running into this issue.  Hard to believe the next party is just six months away and Carter will be five!  Not sure where the time is going.  We got Jacob's classroom assignment for this year in today's mail, and I can barely believe he's going to be in fourth grade.  I remember fourth grade vividly as I had my most memorable teacher that year, and now my kid is that age.  We have two weeks left of summer vacation before we're facing down fall.  And once fall hits, you know what happens...pumpkin season, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, all on fast-forward.  It's starting, no matter how I try to pump the brakes.  But if we could just keep the good weather for a bit longer, maybe we can make a deal...